BAKER REPORT: Greetings from Springfield!
The fall veto session of the Illinois General Assembly is under way and, with it, many pending issues that will have a critical impact on NIU, public higher education in Illinois and the overall management of the state.
Today I have been meeting with legislators and Gov. Pat Quinn to advocate for higher education funding for public universities and MAP (Monetary Award Program) funding for Illinois’ neediest college students. Legislators face difficult budget and policy decisions in the coming months. It is important to articulate to legislators and committees the budgetary consequences of diminished state support for public higher education over the last decade. We are advocating for restored funding and less government regulation to allow NIU to operate with additional flexibility and entrepreneurship.
Pension reform also remains a profound issue affecting not only NIU but all state employees. While Illinois’ public university presidents and chancellors continue to support the Six Step Plan for pension reform, it seems unlikely at this point the General Assembly will address this pressing issue during the veto session. Members of the House Higher Education committee held a hearing Tuesday on the topic of college affordability and performance-based funding allocations for public universities.
In terms of college affordability, I am here today with NIU Student Association President Jack Barry and NIU student Steffen Canino to remind legislators about the important issue of MAP grant funding. Too many eligible NIU students are among the more than 200,000 each year who are denied MAP grants. The state must act to ensure that this important lifeline is available for all eligible students to help them make ends meet.
The third critical issue is performance funding for higher education.
Despite NIU being ranked 36th by U.S. News & World Report for the job we do in educating and graduating our students, the algorithm used in Illinois’ new performance-based funding reduced our appropriations this fiscal year. This came despite the fact that NIU, along with each of the Illinois public universities, improved its performance in terms of the state’s metrics over the previous year.
There is some discussion in Springfield about a desire to raise the percentage of state appropriations distributed to universities using this problematic algorithm. While we work hard to strengthen our culture of accountability at NIU, legislators must be made aware of the problems with the state’s current algorithm and its negative financial impact on operations and, in the end, college affordability. We are working to have the system adjusted to reward improving performance with increased funding.
With state appropriations not expected to climb, and very likely continue to decline next year, it is important that NIU prioritize its activities in terms of student career success and align our precious resources — both human and financial — with our mission and vision. Our Bold Futures workshops are leading to many innovative ideas, and I am charging the NIU community with forming coalitions and implementing these innovations. By aligning our resources with creative ideas, we will transform our culture and unleash the potential of the university.